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Summary:

The electric RAV4 — a model that Toyota Motor discontinued in 2003 after selling only about 300 units — could get a new lease on life, courtesy of the automaker’s alliance with electric car maker Tesla Motors.

The electric RAV4 — a model that Toyota Motor discontinued in 2003 after selling only about 300 units — could get a new lease on life, courtesy of the automaker’s alliance with electric car maker Tesla Motors. Tesla announced this morning that the two companies are aiming to sell an electric version of the RAV4 with a Tesla powertrain in the U.S. in 2012.

Working toward that goal, Tesla says it plans to deliver “a fleet of prototypes to Toyota for evaluation within this year.” Earlier this week Tesla said it plans to deliver two prototypes of electric vehicles to Toyota, both converted from current Toyota models, and today the Silicon Valley car maker said that the first prototype is now undergoing testing.

Tesla spokesperson Khobi Brooklyn told us the agreement was finalized on Thursday, while declining to clarify the extent of the development deal or size of the prototype fleet.

Toyota, which invested $50 million in Tesla following its IPO for an approximately 3 percent ownership stake, explained last Friday that it’s particularly interested in evaluating the potential benefits of Tesla’s battery pack design, which involves thousands of lithium-ion battery cells like those used in laptop computers, rather than larger cells and fewer of them.

While Toyota has said it plans to introduce electric vehicles by 2012 and it’s promising for Tesla to be working closely with the Japanese automaker, agreements to jointly develop and test prototypes don’t always turn into supply agreements for production vehicles.

For example, Fisker Automotive invested in battery maker Advanced Lithium Power, or ALP, and planned to work together on lithium-ion batteries for automotive applications. Fisker later struck a deal with EnerDel “for a potential long-term battery supply agreement,” which required EnerDel to hit certain performance benchmarks to be finalized. ALP has now “ceased operations,” however, and Fisker ended up going with a third battery supplier that threw down a $23 million investment in the company: A123 Systems.

Image courtesy of Toyota

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